The masks have come off all around.
I got the first inkling that America was “back to normal” when I went down to the Delaware beaches on Memorial Day weekend. As I drove south through the beach towns on Route 1, I noticed that people out on the streets were not wearing masks. “Everyone here must be vaccinated,” I thought. At my destination, a beach resort where my Dad and stepmother live, this sense was compounded when we went out. There were crowds of people, with no one wearing masks. Well, there would usually be an occasional couple or family that were masked, but it was a tiny percentage of the total number of people.
We spent one evening at a bar, and I must admit it felt very strange to be in a crowd where everyone was unmasked. Throughout the lockdown in 2020, I had been having dreams about being unmasked in public, and feeling a sense of dread or guilt. There was only just a hint of that feeling as we sat in that bar, and had some draft beers and pub food. Everyone was very friendly, with the exuberant energy of summer vacation in the air. But what else was in the air? I wasn’t comfortable doing any more pubbing on that trip.
I was visiting because I am finally fully vaccinated, as are my Dad and his wife. It was a “first post-vax hugs” family reunion moment. I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of them on your social media feeds. I hadn’t seen them in person since 2019, so it was a wonderful visit. But I kept repeating the nervous little joke, “everyone in Delaware must be vaccinated, because…”
Back home in Pennsylvania, the masks are also coming off. Stores have stopped requiring them, even for their employees in some cases. I would guess that maybe half of customers in stores are still wearing masks, including me. I have a hunch that the elderly tend to go masked more than younger people do, and one can easily imagine why. I base this on casual observation, not data.
One thing I’ll say is that when I am masked in a store, even if I’m in the minority, I don’t feel uncomfortable about it. Meaning I don’t get any sense of being scorned by the non-mask wearers. I think everyone understands and respects people’s choices. It’s similar to the impression I got at the height of the pandemic, when everyone was complying with mask orders. It spoke to a willingness that the general public has to cooperate with public authorities, despite the fact that the pandemic became politicized. I mean, I read about anti-maskers melting down in public and even violence connected with people resisting mask mandates, but here on the ground, where I live, it is not something I have encountered personally.
We just got back from a Father’s Day trip to Knoebels Amusement Resort, an annual family tradition that was cancelled in 2020. It will be our only summer trip this year, since our other annual tradition, G-Fest, is also cancelled for 2021. Well, everyone at Knoebels must be vaccinated, too, based on the almost complete absence of face masks. Conspicuously, some families were masked, but it was less than 1% of people. Now, this is a venue where you are almost always outdoors, whether riding an attraction or eating a meal. We carried our masks with us but only wore them in a few instances of being in a confined space.
It was nice to return to normal, in one sense, but at the same time it felt like we were taking a chance, especially hearing about this new delta variant that is likely to become a scourge of the unvaccinated. And frankly, I’m pretty sure a large proportion of the visitors at Knoebels were unvaccinated, despite the fact that they were unmasked. I base this on the fact that the resort is popular with working class white people, and well, you’ll have to pardon my prejudice, but they tend to be on the MAGA side politically. The bumper stickers and T-shirts I saw while we were there only confirm this prejudice.
So 2020 is behind us now, and we are slowly changing back to the way things were before. But I have an ominous feeling that 2021 has more havoc in store for us.